- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 Apr 1914, p. 182-190
- Willison, Sir John, Speaker
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- Comments about imperialism, about war, about human nature. The truth now as always, that peace comes by power and not by preaching. The Asquith Government in Great Britain as the most radical and the most peace loving government that ever has held office in the Old Country. Pledges with which this government came to office. Fulfilling their pledges but one: to reduce naval and military expenditures. Reasons why this pledge was not carried out. Words from Mr. Asquith from a week or so ago. The need for security. Words from Mr. Winston Churchill's address of a few days ago in introducing the naval estimates for 1914 in the British House of Commons. The effectiveness of the power of Great Britain in preventing wars, with the example of the war in the Balkans last year. The British navy, with the power to preserve peace. The position which Canada occupies as one which should distress all of us, in so far as defence of this Empire is concerned. Words from Mr. Roosevelt from his recent autobiography with regard to armaments. A consideration of the rapid changes that occur in the relations between nations, with illustrative example. The curious fact that all the wars of the last half century were deliberately planned and plotted. The reasons which lead Great Britain to shun war and to love peace as the reasons which excite other nations against the world-wide authority of the empire. The need for Great Britain to be strong, not for conquest but for security.
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- 2 Apr 1914
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WAR AND EMPIRE
An Address by SIR JOHN WILLISON, LL.D., F.R.S.C., before the Empire Club of Canada, April and, 1914.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,--One grows impatient sometimes over the impression which seems to prevail somewhat widely that an imperialist necessarily loves war, hates his neighbour, and is happy only when blood is flowing. Then there is a school which combines with complete faith in itself a profound distrust of other people, which seems to entertain the conviction that those of us who advocate a strong British navy for the Empire, are the paid agents of the manufacturers of guns and ammunition, and engaged in some mischievous and desperate conspiracy to make strife among the nations. All I have to say, remembering that I have advocated a strong navy for the British Empire for a good many years, is that if there is such a fund available for those who are engaged in this work, I am a long way in arrears, and I imagine a good many of the rest of us have not been able to get the place on the pay roll to which we are fairly entitled! The most severe judgment that can be passed upon these people is that many of them actually seem to believe what they say, which suggests that there is a wide separation between the preaching of peace and the practice of charity. I do not imagine that it is necessary to impress upon anyone who lives in our age the horrors of war, and I imagine that any properly constituted man or woman would sacrifice something to bring in the thousand years of peace. But what is there in the world today to suggest that human nature has materially changed its character during all the centuries? We still have wars; we have race wars, we have labour riots, more destructive than ever before in our history, and we have all those manifestations from year to year which indicate that the time of peace, for which we all hope, is unfortunately long in the future. Why, I have in my mind a peace orator who never mounts a platform without devoting half a dozen sentences to the military achievements of his ancestors. (Laughter.) It is true, now as always, that peace comes by power and not by preaching, although we should still proclaim human brotherhood, while "Blessed are the peacemakers" is a benediction that all of us might covet.
The Asquith Government in Great Britain is the most radical and the most peace loving government that ever has held office in the Old Country. They came into office pledged solemnly to the people to reduce naval and military expenditures. They came into office pledged to great measures of social and industrial reform. In the main, whether wisely or unwisely, generally wisely, I think--they have carried out their measures of reform; a conclusive evidence to my mind that these British Ministers have not changed their character since they came into office. And if they have been true to all their pledges except the single pledge to reduce naval and military expenditures, the reason, to my mind, is because, knowing the inner conditions of Europe as we cannot know them, they dare not with proper regard for the security of the great interests in their charge, they dare not reduce naval and military expenditures. (Applause.) Let me give you a short statement by Mr. Asquith a week or so ago. He said, "It could not be supposed that it was any satisfaction to the Government whose political ambitions were set upon social reforms, to ask large sacrifices from the taxpayers for the purpose of maintaining military and naval security. Still, security we must have. Without security, trade, our world-wide interests, the commerce of the Empire, and our national existence at home and abroad, would be imperilled and might any time become impossible."
That is the statement of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, knowing all the conditions which exist in the Old World, and as I have said, the leader of the most peace-loving and the most radical government that has ever held office in the Mother Country. We can well imagine that if with any due regard to imperial safely such expenditures could be reduced, the cabinet would not resist forty percent of its supporters, oppose the peace element which is so powerful in the British Liberal Party, and insist at the risk of dissension and disunion on asking the British Parliament for constantly increasing expenditures for naval and military purposes. Let me give you another quotation. I have not seen the case stated so well anywhere as in the closing paragraphs of Mr. Winston Churchill's address a few days ago, in introducing the naval estimates for 1914 in the British House of Commons. The speech has just arrived in the British newspapers. He said, "We have responsibilities in many quarters today. We are far from being detached from the problems of Europe. We have passed through a year of continuous anxiety, and although His Majesty's Government believe foundations of peace among the great powers have been strengthened, yet the causes which might lead to a general war have not been removed, and often remind us of their presence. There has not been the slightest abatement of naval and military preparation. On the contrary we are witnessing this year increases of expenditure on armaments by Continental Powers beyond all previous experience. The world is arming as it never was armed before. Every suggestion for arrest or limitation has so far been ineffectual. From time to time awkward things happen, and situations occur which make it necessary that the naval force at our immediate disposal, now in this quarter and now in that, should be rapidly counted up. On such occasions the responsibilities which rest on the Admiralty come home with brutal reality to those who are responsible, and unless our naval strength were solidly, amply, and unswervingly maintained, the government could not feel that they were doing their duty to the country." (Hear, hear.)
During the last year we had the brutal and bloody war in the Balkans, and no one could be certain from day to day that the whole of Europe might not be involved. I think there is general agreement that the one outstanding influence which prevented the general embroilment of Europe was the power of Great Britain, the vigilance and wisdom of Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Minister. (Applause.) But let me ask this question, and let us give it a frank and candid answer: What power would Sir Edward Grey have had to preserve the peace of Europe if he had not had the British navy at his back? (Hear, hear.) I am glad that I am not required to go to the Old Country on business just now; I would not care to go for pleasure. It does seem to me that in so far as defence of this Empire is concerned, the position which Canada occupies is one which should distress all of us. (Hear, hear.) That is not the utterance of a partisan; I am not assessing responsibility for the situation; I am speaking simply as a British-Canadian, profoundly anxious to recover his self-respect. (Applause.)
The only justification for great expenditures for defence, are that such expenditures are necessary to secure the world's peace and to guarantee the safety and the integrity of the institutions which we cherish. I am not sure just how strongly Mr. Roosevelt counts as an authority in Canada. Many of us did not regard Mr. Taft very favourably; he came here a few weeks ago, and most of us were grateful that he had not come here during the last general election. So perhaps if Mr. Roosevelt came to Canada we might regard him favourably also. In his recent autobiography he says, "There is every reason why we should try to limit the cost of armaments as these tend to grow excessive, but there is also every reason to remember that in the present state of civilization a proper armament is the surest guarantee of peace, and is the only guarantee that war, if it does come, will not mean irreparable and overwhelming disaster." A very striking speech was made at Vancouver three or four years ago by Lord Milner, who, although strongly imperialistic, and sometimes classed as a jingo, is, I believe, as fair-minded and moderate-minded a man, as concerned for peace when peace is the possible policy, as any other man who holds a position of influence in the British Empire. In this speech at Vancouver he argued at length, and I think conclusively, that the armaments of a nation were powerful to insure a nation's security, and powerful to insure its peace, if war never came. He pointed out that it is credit which determines the power and influence of nations, just as it does the fate of any business. "Credit in business rests ultimately on the possession or command of cash, though the owners may never actually have to produce it. And so the influence and authority of a nation, its power to defend its rightful interests, depend ultimately on that fighting strength in war,' which it nevertheless may never be called upon to use. See," he said, "what is happening in Europe today. International boundaries are being altered. Solemn treaties are being torn up. Yet not a shot has been fired, probably not a shot will be. The strong will prevail and the weak will go to the wall without any such necessity."
Do we ever think, sir, of the rapid changes that occur in the relations between nations? Twenty years ago the familiar phrase among us was that Great Britain stood in "splendid isolation." Her understanding with the United States was not as satisfactory as it might have been; she did not seem to have a friend in Europe. Only a few years have passed, and today Great Britain has an alliance with Japan, an understanding with prance, good relations with Russia, and a better understanding with the United States than has prevailed between these two countries for a century. Of course I recognize that Great Britain never can stand again in complete isolation as she did twenty years ago, because at least she will always have the support of the Canadian Navy. (Laughter.) But we have no guarantee that in a few years Great Britain may not again, through conflict of interests and the operation of national and international prejudices, stand alone, just as she stood alone twenty years ago. And so long as we are unable to guarantee permanent relations among nations, each nation desiring to maintain and exercise its authority in the world, must exercise it by the human agencies of a navy and an army.
Those of you who are familiar with the history of the middle of the last century will remember that when the first international exhibition, known as the Hyde Park Exhibition, took place in London, there seemed to be an impression amongst the nations that this exhibition was the actual beginning of the permanent reign of peace on the earth, because, men said, it is inconceivable, and it ought to be inconceivable, I grant you that when the representatives of all nations gathered in a great peace festival, it would be impossible that these nations should ever again meet on the field of battle. But let me give you what Mr. Justin McCarthy says in his History of Our Own Times: "Golden indeed were the expectations with which hopeful people welcomed the exhibition of 1851. It was the first organized to gather all the representatives of the world's industry into one great fair; and there were those who seriously expected that men who had once been prevailed upon to meet together in friendly and peaceful rivalry would never again be persuaded to meet in rivalry of a fiercer kind. It seems extraordinary now to think that any sane person can have indulged in such expectations, or can have imagined that the tremendous forces generated by the rival interests, ambitions and passions of races, could be subdued into harmonious co-operation by the good sense and good feeling born of a friendly, meeting. The Hyde Park Exhibition, and all the exhibitions that followed it, have not as yet made the slightest perceptible difference in the warlike tendencies of nations. The Hyde Park Exhibition was often described as the festival to open a long reign of peace. It might, as a mere matter of chronology be called without any impropriety the festival to celebrate the close of the short reign of peace. From that year, 1851, it may be said fairly enough that the world has hardly known a week of peace. The Coup d'Etat in France closed the year. The Crimean War began almost immediately after, and was followed by the Indian Mutiny, and that by the war between France and Austria, the long Civil War in the United States, the Neapolitan enterprises of Garibaldi and the Mexican intervention, until we come to the war between Austria, Prussia and Denmark, the short, sharp struggle for German supremacy between Austria and Prussia, the war between France and Germany, and the war between Russia and Turkey. Such were, in brief summary, the events that quickly followed the great inaugurating festival of peace in 1851."
It is a curious fact, but, I believe, a fact, that all the wars of the last half century were deliberately planned and plotted. In not a single instance were they the result of sudden passion or a sudden disturbance among the nations. It is also true, if you think for a moment, that nearly every war during the last half century, that between Prussia and Austria, and France and Prussia or Germany, that between Japan and China, that between Russia and Japan, every one of these great wars had a result the reverse of what the majority of thinking people expected; just as the war in the Balkans had the result which few people expected. If you will read the British newspapers during the early days of the struggle in the Balkans, you will find a general prediction that a few weeks would give a complete victory to Turkey. We believed that France would succeed against Germany; most of us believed that China would overwhelm Japan; perhaps there was more doubt as to the war between Japan and Russia; but in nearly all of these great conflicts the result has been just what the world did not expect, and the reason, as signally demonstrated in the Balkans, was that the nations that were victors had deliberately planned the war, and were fully prepared for the issue when it came. And while I am not a soldier I am inclined to the view that the nation which plans for war has twenty-five per cent. of advantage over the nation which does not expect war, does not desire war, and lets war come.
Now, if during all these years when war has covered the face of the earth, if during all these years Great Britain has not been involved in a conflict with any of the great nations, is there any other explanation than that the British navy secured the Mother Country and its dominions from molestation? (Applause.) A book was published the other day; I heard a member read voluminous extracts from it in a fervent manner in the Canadian Parliament. It was written by Mr. Hirst, editor of the London Economist, and he calls it "The Six Panics," and in it he endeavours almost to demonstrate that all apprehension of war is a panic, and that behind all such apprehensions is "the armament trust," of which I spoke in the beginning. If I had been asked to name this book I should have called it "Faith as a Food," or "Half Holidays with the Angels." There are two kinds of persons who never think: The extreme Tory and the extreme Radical. (Laughter.) The extreme Tory is sometimes right, because his faith rests in some degree on human experience. The extreme Radical is seldom or never right because he considers regard for human experience as a sign of weakness end develops his opinions absolutely out of his prejudices and his imagination. (Laughter.) There has been apprehension of war that was not well founded, but those who believe in reasonable measures to preserve the security of their institutions surely are not to be held responsible for every hare-brained person who may think a war is in prospect. The vital thing is to be ready when war comes, so long as we are certain that we live in a world and in an age in which wars may come. We know that a few years ago France and England were on the very verge of war, and only two years ago only the alliance with Great Britain prevented war between France and Germany; and as I have said, probably only the strength of the British navy, as expressed in the person of Sir Edward Grey, prevented a European conflict during this last year.
Now, you may ask me why I suspect other nations of designs against Great Britain, and hold Great Britain guiltless of designs against other nations. Well, because for a century Great Britain has waged no war of conquest against any great nation, because she desires no extension of territory, because her commercial interests and her political relations bind her to peace, and because among the great nations, in my judgment, the only two that are absolutely fit for self-government are Great Britain and the United States. I would exclude even France, because I do not believe that even yet France is secure against a temporary development of feeling that would permit the ascendancy of another Napoleon. The reasons which lead Great Britain to shun war and to love peace are the reasons which excite other nations against the worldwide authority of the empire. Great Britain has to be strong, not for conquest but for security, and not only for her own security, but for the security of her outlying dominions and of the four hundred millions of people who live under her flag. I do not believe, whatever theorists may say-neither do you-that India or Egypt is fit for self-government, any more than I believe that Mexico is fit for self-government, and I do sincerely believe no other nation in the world is so well fitted as Great Britain to discharge with sympathy and justice and efficiency the responsibilities that rest upon her shoulders. (Applause.) We all desire the coming of the thousand years of peace. I think the theory of empire which commends itself to all of us is not that which is founded on military glory, and that we would be glad if the prayer of all the nations were "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." But that day has not dawned, and I fear that many generations will pass before it does dawn upon this human and very imperfect world. (Applause.)